09/06/2012 2:07PM

Belmont Park fall meet begins with changes on the horizon

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Tom Keyser
Flat Out is being pointed for a repeat bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The gray skies above and the road-construction crews outside the front gates on Hempstead Turnpike on Thursday morning perhaps provided the appropriate backdrop as Belmont Park prepares to commence its fall meeting on Saturday.

The memories of a successful Saratoga season – one in which total handle increased 9 percent – quickly fade when one thinks what lies ahead for the New York Racing Association. An announcement regarding a restructured, state-controlled NYRA board, front-loaded with eight picks by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is imminent. What it will mean for the current management team in place at NYRA and for the future landscape of New York racing is anybody’s guess.

Also imminent is the release of a report by a task force assigned by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to investigate the rash of equine fatalities during Aqueduct’s winter meet. Changes in some protocols are expected as a result of the report, which was given to the governor’s office on Aug. 28.

After eight months of much ballyhooed purse increases, the 37-day Belmont fall meet begins with purse cuts. While the Belmont fall purse structure was not going to remain at the level of the Saratoga season, there are $2,000 to $5,000 cuts in purses from the Belmont spring meeting. Overnight stakes that were worth $90,000 (routes) and $85,000 (sprints) are now worth $85,000 and $80,000, respectively. Maiden and allowance races had their purses cut $2,000-to-$3,000 as well. Cuts to claiming race purses were mandated by the state racing board in April, making sure that no claiming purse was worth more than double the claiming price.

P.J. Campo, a NYRA vice president and its director of racing, said the Belmont fall purse cuts to maiden, allowance, and overnight stakes were in place since the beginning of the year.

“This is the way it was projected out through the year at the beginning of the year,” Campo said.

The traditional stakes had their purses increased 34.6 percent from the 2011 fall meeting, as Belmont will offer 31 stakes worth $8,350,000 this fall.

There are nine Grade 1 stakes, and four of them will be offered on Sept. 29, topped by the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, a stepping-stone to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. Flat Out, last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, and his stablemate Ron the Greek are both being pointed to the Jockey Club by their trainer, Bill Mott. Whitney Invitational winner Fort Larned, who arrived at Belmont from Saratoga on Thursday morning, is also headed to the Gold Cup.

The Sept. 29 program will also include the Grade 1 $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic featuring a possible meeting between Point of Entry, Dullahan, and Little Mike; the $400,000 Beldame which is expected to include Royal Delta, It’s Tricky, and Love Pride; the $600,000 Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on turf; and the $500,000 Vosburgh Invitational for male sprinters. The Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso at one mile on dirt is also on the card. All five stakes are part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program.

Two-year-olds will be highlighted in Grade 1 races on Oct. 6 in the Champagne (males) and Frizette (fillies). The Grade 1 Jamaica for 3-year-old turf males is also on the day’s program.

The Oct. 20 New York Showcase card features all races for New York-breds, including seven stakes topped by the $250,000 Empire Classic.

Racing at Belmont runs through Oct. 28 before this circuit moves to Aqueduct on Nov. 2.